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November internationals: We rank the most important players to Ireland's cause

Yep, it’s that time of year again.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

OKAY, SO WE’VE got the first rounds of the Heineken Cup out of the way. Now only a few Pro12 fixtures separate us from the return of international rugby.

Ireland’s new head coach has already brought a large squad under his wing at Carton House this season, but inter-provincial tussles and European competition has unearthed a few more names he may want to add to the mix.

Below, is how we rank the players in and around Schmidt’s squad in order of their importance to the Ireland cause this November, and a little beyond.

The table is 100% scientific and definitive, yet subject to change.

1. Jonathan Sexton.

He may not look himself  yet in the blue and white stripes of Racing Metro, but Sexton remains Ireland’s clear-cut choice at number 10. And with Schmidt handing him the reins, he will determine Ireland’s fortune.

2. Paul O’Connell.

3. Brian O’Driscoll.

©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

4. Cian Healy.

5. Sean O’Brien.

6. Mike Ross.

His importance is slightly diminished by the form shown by his understudy Martin Moore and Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick, but to win against Australia (or stand a chance against New Zealand) Ireland need the tried and trusted cornerstone of the set-piece ready to go.

7. Tommy Bowe.

8. Conor Murray.

9. Jamie Heaslip.

10. Rob Kearney.

11. Luke Marshall.

Concussions behind him, the 22-year-old centre has an opportunity this month to cement himself into the Ireland XV for the long-haul.

Gordon D’Arcy remains a safe bet in the position, but the veteran has been unable to provide Leinster with inspiration and invention in the beginning stages of the season.

12. Donnacha Ryan.

13. Rory Best.


©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

14. Peter O’Mahony.

15. Declan Fitzpatrick.

16. Keith Earls.

With Simon Zebo sidelined, Keith Earls’ acceleration and finishing ability will once again come into play at international level. Although his ability to play as a centre brings him into the firing line for many, experience in that position at international level will also come in handy as Brian O’Driscoll struggles to shake off a calf injury.

17. Iain Henderson.

18. Gordon D’Arcy.

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

19. Paddy Jackson.

21. Chris Henry.

22. Sean Cronin.

Consistency is still the big problem for Cronin; the best forward in Europe one weekend, a chink in the Leinster armour the next. With the discovery of Richardt Strauss’ heart condition Cronin will be given the chance to string more performances together for his club, but for Ireland Rory Best will be an obvious choice.

23. Jack McGrath.


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24. Eoin Reddan.

25. Stephen Archer.

©INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

26. Andrew Trimble.

27. David Kilcoyne.

28. Ian Madigan.

As things stand, Madigan is Ireland’s third-choice out-half again, just as he was after the hasty dropping of Ronan O’Gara during the Six Nations. Schmidt may well show more faith in the running number 10 than his replacement at Leinster, but with Paddy Jackson flawlessly guiding Ulster to five wins in a row – and kicking plenty of goals along the way – the Blackrock tyro will have to work to make the bench.

29. Martin Moore.

30. James Cronin.

31. Mike McCarthy.

32. Dan Tuohy.

33 Paul Marshall.

Joe Schmidt has shown his love for the injection of pace provided by Eoin Reddan, but as the Limerick man approaches his 33rd birthday the Kiwi just might begin to glance past him at the added impetus Paul Marshall could provide off the bench against tiring defences.

34. Kevin McLaughlin.

35. Mike Sherry.

36. Devin Toner.

imageFile photo. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

37. Shane Jennings.

38. Stuart Olding.

39. Luke Fitzgerald.

Class is permanent, unfortunately Fitzgerald continues to fall foul of temporary injury trouble. If he can string a handful of performances together then he could well be challenging for one of the starting back three slots.

40.  Robbie Henshaw.

41.  Craig Gilroy.

42. Fergus McFadden.

image Out of favour, McFadden and Gilroy. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

43. Isaac Boss.

44. Niall Morris

45. Donncha O’Callaghan.

So, who would you rank at number one. Tell/berate us in the comment section below.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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